Thursday, December 18, 2008

Do you have a social media marketing plan for 2009?

Well another year is coming to an end, a year of hard work, scary decisions, exciting surprises and countless g-r-o-w-t-h opportunities (in more ways than one!) which makes it a great time to take stock of our businesses, see what worked (accomplishments!) and what didn't (lessons learned!), and map out a marketing plan for 2009 (let's dust off those business resolutions & wishlists!).

This year we saw how social media evolved from being a cool site for kids to hang out at, to a major marketing tool for corporations to engage with their customers. Are you making full use of this new trend? Nowadays a big chunk of marketing plans should be dedicated to social media, so I've put together a list of questions to help you get started on that:

Online Social Networks
Are you active in at least one online social network (signing up alone doesn't count!)? Selling is all about repetition - the more you connect with your customers -- in a helpful, friendly way -- the more they'll think of you when they're ready to buy the type of products you offer or refer you to a friend. Online social networks are perfect for this. These are some ways you could be using your networks:

  • Facebook - update your wall & your status with comments, events and links of interest to your target market
  • LinkedIn - showcase your talent in the "Answers" section, download your virtual resume, get testimonials
  • Twitter - let others in your industry know when you attend conferences or networking events; comment on articles or breaking news
Make sure to also check out niche sites that fit closely with your brand, for example:
  • A Small World - if you're targeting the luxury market
  • MiGente - if you're targeting the Hispanic market
(For a more complete list visit this Wikipedia page)

Strategy: Schedule 15 minutes a day to participate in one or two sites of your choice.

Blogging
Blogs are a great way to keep your community updated on your business/industry, plus they're great for search engine optimization. Are you regularly updating your blog? How long has it been since you changed the widgets on your sidebar? Have you explored the different affiliate sales programs so you can sell complimentary products and receive commissions? Do you know what the best sources of ad revenue are for you, whether it's joining an ad network or striking deals directly with advertisers?

Strategy: Enter at least 1-3 posts a week. Designate a special time or day to do this and stick to your schedule. Freshen up your blog's sidebar once a month by adding a new poll, or widget or product announcement. Track your site's analytics monthly (or more often if you have a special campaign going on) to see if there are ways to increase traffic/ad revenue.

Online Directories
Forget the phone book. The new online yellow pages offer you lots of space to add company info (including video), feature special promotions, offer discount coupons, and allow customers to engage with you by writing reviews and posting pictures. Users can also send a link with your information to a mobile phone, and this is important because mobile is the next new internet frontier. Are you on these local online directories?
Citysearch (basic package is $149/mo)
Yelp
Superpages
Yahoo local ($299/yr)
Google local, maps
Local.com
Judy's Book

Strategy: Get on as many of them as you can, especially the free ones! Also check if there's any specifically targeting your industry, like if you're a restaurant there's MenuPages.com, etc.

Collectively these actions will help you build your online reputation the way you want to, and you won't have to wait around for the press to find you and write about you, when and if. The more you participate in social media, the more you'll get out of it, it's that simple. If you need help creating and/or executing a customized social media marketing plan for the new year, please contact me.

I'd like to wish everyone a wonderful holiday season, and here's to hoping 2009 bring lots of good things to all of us.

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Friday, December 5, 2008

Mogulette Holiday Mixer

Nothing like throwing a party to get into the holiday spirit! That's why I decided to throw my 2nd annual Mogulette Mixer early in the month this year, and had a terrific time with a most talented group of businesswomen.

Luckily my mom was visiting and she helped me put up the Christmas decorations (thanks Mom! I copied the idea for the cute tree on the left from this month's Domino magazine). The orange-pine scented candles were aglow and classic holiday tunes played on the stereo as the first guest arrived, right on time. I was still arranging the baked ham and potato salad on the table (The Silver Palate Cookbook saved the day, as usual) when the doorbell rang.

Moments later more ladies walked in and the networking began in earnest. Marisa works in Wall St. and just started a blog, Jodi recently became a holistic nutrition and wellness coach, Alix is a writer & a journalist, and Simmy owns Nyingzemo, a company that makes Tibetan rugs with modern designs. There were about 15 women in total but the wealth of knowledge and expertise was huge.



Ginny, left, is an architect and Lillian is Director of Admissions at Loyola School and also a writer.

Melody, left, who makes educational video games for children, chats with Karmina, who works for MediaLink.


Jen, above, has a PhD and runs her own management consulting firm, WhiteWave.

Donna, a therapist, far left, who's wearing a sweater she made herself, gave everybody a quick numerology forecast for the new year. Others in this picture: Jennifer, in the beige skirt is owner of Greenwich Jewelers, and Cecilia, dressed in black in the middle, has worked for many years at Brasserie Julien, which she co-owns with her husband but is currently looking for a job in social media. She snagged the grand prize at the raffle: a free makeup lesson valued at $150 from Laura Geller. I also gave away four free 1-week passes to the new, ultra sleek Equinox gym on Manhattan's Upper East Side.

Other fempreneurs in attendance: Stacey, director of global production at Sesame Workshop, Stephanie, a web consultant, and last but not least BL Ochman, a social media consultant & blogger who is thrilled to be launching her new venture, Pawfun.com.

The business cards were flying left and right but some people ran out of them so to make it easy for everyone to stay in touch I have created a Facebook page, which everyone is welcome to join (females only!). I added more pictures there and will post upcoming events and other info. Hope to "see" you all there.


This was so much fun I hope to be adding more networking nights to the calendar next year, along with my regular workshops. Now the big question is, what will I do with all the leftovers?

Til soon!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Pondering Past and Future for Women In Media

Entrepreneurs from all over the tri-state area gathered in droves at the NY Xpo For Business 2008 last week, held at the cavernous Jacob Javitz Convention Center. WCBS sponsored the Working Women's Business luncheon at midday and had media mogul Cathie Black as a keynote speaker (I snagged a picture with her at the end, see below...apologies for my cellphone camera's fuzzy resolution). Ms Black, who is busy doing the speaker circuit promoting her now book, Basic Black, gave us some interesting anecdotes on Helen Gurly Brown, who paved the way for women in media by becoming editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan magazine and staying on the job for an impressive 32 years. Ms. Black, who oversees Cosmo as president of Hearst Magazines, told us how HGB, who is now in her late 80s, still goes into the office and writes letters to the editors around the world.

While we munched on roasted chicken and vegetables, she recounted the story of how back when HGB started out, corporate America was like an episode of Mad Men. There were absolutely no opportunities for women to advance their careers. As a secretary at an advertising agency, part of her job was to deliver her boss's itinerary every day to his home, and she would fill it with personal notes and light-hearted comments. As luck would have it, her boss's wife noticed her clever scribblings and asked him to give her a chance. That's how she got a job writing copy, and rose through the ranks to become one of the highest paid copywriters in the 60's. This original "sex in the city" girl also wrote various books - her first was Sex and the Single Girl - and was a big champion of women's sexual liberation.

As a blogger, I see myself as a pioneer of sorts as well, as social media is rapidly transforming the webosphere and we're still in the early stages of change. So during the Q&A I asked Ms. Black how her magazines, which include O, Harper's Bazaar and Esquire, were embracing user-generated content. Unfortunately she really didn't answer my question, but she did say that she spends 80% of her day on the digital side, and every one of their titles has their own site with blogs, video and games. Although not all of their digital properties are yet profitable, she sees profitability by the second half of 2009. The future, she says, is about "engaging the reader when they want it and where they want it".
What I was curious about was, when it comes to magazines, what is the future for bloggers? Forbes has created a Blog Network where they feature hundreds of blogs on their site and shares advertising revenue with the bloggers. MTV is doing the same thing except theirs is much smaller and more exclusive. Will Hearst follow suit?

Finally, a plug for fellow blogger Nichelle Stephens, whom I met at the table. She pens the Keeping Nickels blog and who also wrote a post about the luncheon. That's her on the left, with the glasses.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Building a Business Around an Online Community

I attended a Town Hall Meeting for Yahoo Groups this week and was so impressed with one of the stories I heard I had to immediately start writing about it. There is a woman that calls herself FlyLady who has over half a million -- yes 500,000+ -- members in her Yahoo group. Now that's pretty astounding. Yahoo was impressed too, and they even sponsored an event just for her members to celebrate that milestone, which they videotaped and showed to us. With a name like FlyLady I was thinking maybe her group was about hip hop dancing or something like that. Well, not even close. On the screen we saw a cuddly middle-aged housewife with the sweetest southern accent and an infectious smile thanking her audience and telling her story. Marla Cilley, as it turns out, built her huge following by helping women get rid of clutter. I kind of figured the topic was of some interest, given there are so many home organizing shows on cable TV (which I'm addicted to, BTW). But a club with 500,000-plus declutterers? Wow.

Her site (which actually could use a little de-cluttering itself, but maybe that's just me), is chock full of suggestions, advice and routines to help you live a more orderly life. I found one about instituting an evening ritual before you go to sleep, which sounds perfect for me. Usually at bedtime I'm struggling with my inner brat who refuses to go to sleep, which means I end up staying up too late and then tossing and turning until I finally, reluctantly succumb to the Dream Gods. The next morning of course I'm dragging my butt. Marla's bedtime routine has a series of steps that prepare you to wind down for the evening. She recommends straightening out the house, checking your appointments for tomorrow, setting out the breakfast things, taking a warm bath, reflecting on your accomplishments, and so on. But if you don't have time for all that, she has a short version: clean the dishes, lay out your clothes for tomorrow and brush your teeth. I can do that!

If you join the FlyLady Group you'll receive a barrage of emails daily, guiding you through your day. Housecleaning, decluttering, menu planning - she'll put you on a detailed schedule from morning to night but she makes it sound more like a fun game than actual chores. It's like having a personal assistant reminding you to take care of all the little things. My first thought was, when do I have time to read all those emails? Marla recommends spending 2 minutes scanning them and then deleting them periodically.

You'll find a ton of free information on the FlyLady site, but there's also plenty of stuff for sale - her CD's, books and decluttering products - all of which are pretty inexpensive. I guess when you have half a million members it all adds up. Plus she also does speaking engagements so I would venture to say this is probably a pretty lucrative business for her.

This successful entrepreneuress found her life's calling - decluttering - by giving and helping others - I like that business model!

Well, I have to go now. There's some dishes to be done, some clothes to be laid out, and some teeth to be brushed...over and out!

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Monday, November 17, 2008

Adding Pages to Your Blogger Blog

I love Blogger and how much easier it is to add widgets and gadgets to it than Wordpress, but one big gripe I have is that it doesn't allow you to add pages, which I've been wanting to do for a while. Luckily I found a way around this problem, well two ways actually, which I will share with you.

For both options there's 2 steps:
1) create the page, and
2) put a link for it on the sidebar.

The first is super easy. You just create a new blog post and back-date it so it's "hidden" in the archives. For example, I recently created a "Press" page for one of my clients so she could put a list of links to all the articles and blogs she's been mentioned in. Once I entered all the info on the post, I dated it to last January, so it won't appear as a recent entry. To add a link on the sidebar I clicked on the "Layout" tab and then "Page Elements". From there I went to the "Add a Gadget" list and selected the "text" option, where I composed a little ad with a link pointing to the new page. Voila!

The second option takes a bit more work but it enables you to attach a full website to your blog. I built my "Services" page using Google Sites, and as you can see from the image below, I was able to replicate the exact same 'look and feel' of my blog, to make it seamless.

Although overall it was pretty simple to set up, there are some tricks I learned. This application is for groups to build sites that many people can collaborate on, but it allows you to change the defaults so that 1) you make it available for the public (as opposed to only those in the group), and 2) you disable the sharing features, since you'll be the only one entering information.

To start out you'll need to go to Google Apps and open a free account. Then go to Google Sites and click on "create new site". It'll ask you to enter a name for the site and also whether you want it private or public. Next you'll need to select a theme from a number of available templates, but since I would be customizing mine I just chose the default option. From there you'll automatically be sent over to your new home page, where you can begin making your changes.

Since I wasn't going to have any collaborators on my site, I wanted to get rid of the links for Attachments and Comments on the bottom of the page. To do that, I clicked on the "more actions" tab and selected "page settings". Then I unchecked "allow attachments" and "allow comments".

To change the colors and fonts, click on the "site settings" tab and select "site appearance". The "change site layout" button allows you to tweak the dimensions of the sidebar and the overall page, which I re-sized to match the width of my blog's sidebar.

To replicate my blog banner I took a screen shot of it and cropped it using Microsoft Paint. Once I saved it to my hard drive I could then download it by clicking on the "change logo" link under "Header" and selecting "custom logo".

To match the background and font colors, click on the "colors and fonts" tab and enter the same hex code that you have in your blog's layout.

In the navigation bar I removed the "recent site activity" by clicking the "delete" link. The default title was "navigation", which I changed to "Services" by clicking "edit".

I also added a picture of myself to the sidebar and a link to my profile by clicking on "add sidebar item" and then selecting "add text".

Once all that was done I was ready to insert the copy for my services, so I clicked on the "save changes" button on the upper right hand side and then "return to site" on the upper left. That'll take you back to the main page, where you'll find an "edit page" button that will open up a text editor similar to the one Blogger has for entering posts. You can insert all kinds of things like images, calendars, videos , Google Gadgets, etc. but unfortunately it blocked me from entering html code with certain tags in it, like for affiliate widgets, so it's a little limited (hopefully Google will fix that soon?!@*#).

The last step is to add a link to it on my blog's sidebar, and that's it. I was pretty impressed with how much I was able to match it to my blog and how user friendly the software was. Now I'm planning on adding a few more pages, which I'll be letting you know about. I'd love to hear what you think of my new services page or if you've found another way to solve the Blogger "page issue".

'Til soon!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

EconWomen Conference - Part 2

So I'm groovin' to the funky latin beat of Los Hombres Calientes, Vol. 2 in the background (music to blog by) and ready to keep yaking about yesterday's EconWomen Conference. Where did I leave off? Oh right. Wenda Harris Millard. Co-CEO of Martha Stewart. She had a lot to say about ad networks (similar to Adsense, ad networks allow publishers to make money by placing ads on their sites). The internet, she explained, is a brand medium, and there is concern on the part of brands with being associated with lower quality sites, or ones that don't fit well with their image, so they will have a preference over branded sites. Because the environment in which the ads appear is very important to advertisers, sites that are able to brand themselves will do well. But she warns you can't rest on your laurels - execution is everyting and publishers have to continue to deliver quality content. She told us about how big-name brand marketers like Dove (Unilever) are embracing the internet while others (Proctor & Gamble) are still sitting on the sidelines, experimenting. "You can't experiment anymore, especially since the forecast is for advertising online to match that of consumer magazines by 2010, and quickly surpass it from there," adds Wenda.

We heard more on the subject at the next panel, "Advertising, Ad Networks and Other Revenue Opportunties". Lisa Stone, CEO of BlogHer (that's her next to yours truly), shared how her company started out as a conference and has now become a full fledged organization that offers an ad network to its members but maintain high standards. "We have advertising guidelines that forbid pay-per-post and we request that bloggers bring in the best content for women", she says. As Lisa puts it, their members didn't want to write for magazines or newspapers, they wanted to write for themselves (here's to blogger's independence!), and BlogHer is providing a way for them to monetize their work. She sees a very positive future for ad networks.

Up next it was two media powerhouses: Cathie Black, Pres., Hearst Magazines, being interviewed by Tina Brown, back at work with the launch of her new Daily Beast. Tina Brown made a catty remark about being in magazine publishing in this environment (meow...I guess she learned her lesson...), which was blogged about in this piece on PaidContent.com.

The highlight of the panel that followed, which was on M&A and venture capital activity, was seeing Andrew Shue in the flesh, cute as ever. Yeah, that Andrew Shue. From Melrose Place. Elizabeth's brother. He is co-founder of CafeMom, an online community for mommies, although apparently he hasn't left Hollywood altogether. When he introduced himself he said he was formerly with D&D Advertising, and the whole room chuckled. I had to ask one of my table mates what he meant, and she quickly clarified that was the fictional company he worked for in the series (ok, he's cute and has a sense of humor).

The other big thrill was listening to blogger extraordinaire Heather Armstrong tell her story. She started her blog Dooce when she was single, thinking that only a handful of friends (and, as she puts it, a few guys she slept with) would read it. She would complain about her job and call her boss names, for which she subsequently got fired. Heather later got married and had a baby, so her posts became about the isolation that new moms go through and her own struggles with post partum depression. The beauty of it was that new mommies all over the country were sharing her same angst and, through her, found a voice for what they were feeling. Page views went through the roof, to the point where Dooce now supports her whole family. Her experience really inspired me to keep writing, and more often. Hope it does for you too. Blog on!

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

EconWomen Conference, New York

It's 1:30pm and I haven't had lunch so I'm trying to make a healthy choice from the sumptuous array of sweets at the EconWomen Conference, where a who's who of women in media are converging for an afternoon of kick-ass panels. I opt for the fruits and nuts but also sneak in a few of the checkered shortbread cookies, and settle in my seat.

Wenda Harris Millard, Co-Ceo of Martha Stewart Omnimedia, kicked things off on a humorous note. In his opening comments her interviewer mentioned that MSO had recently reported earnings and that they had been flat, but she quickly pointed out to him that "flat is the new up." Love it.

Wenda then went on to say that the internet is a medium made for women. "Technology has given women a new voice, and they're screaming," she says. The media veteran believes there is an appetite for intelligent, integrated marketing, and that is the direction she's taking MSO.

"Women are seeking the comfort of home, and we're all about how to have a beautiful life every day, so we're well positioned to capture this trend", she adds. Yesterday they announced they invested in a company called Pingg, which makes online invitations, and they're adding their "secret sauce" to it (watch out Evite). They did this because they found out their readers throw an average of 17 parties a year (who'd of thought that the dainty handicrafters were such party animals?). So now they can plan them on Martha's site. And they're not stopping there. Wenda says their big franchises are food, weddings, and holiday celebrations, so they're looking to invest in other properties in those areas (and she's open to suggestions). It's nice to have money.

It's past midnight so I'm going to bed now but I'll continue blogging about some more very useful insights I got at this event tomorrow. Stay tuned for stories on Andrew Shue (who was one of the hotties on Melrose Place and is now a web entrepreneur), Tina Brown (formerly of Vanity Fair and Talk Magazine), Joni Evans of WowoWow.com, Lisa Stone, CEO of BlogHer plus many others. Good night all!

Monday, October 13, 2008

My Favorite Web 2.0 Video Channels

I recently had the opportunity to speak to Shoba Purushothaman, the CEO of The NewsMarket, a site makes video press releases available to news organizations as well as bloggers to download for free. So say you're writing a post about Chrome, the new Google browser. To give your story a little more depth you could add the video press release to your piece for your readers to click on. This makes it very easy for bloggers to add professionally produced content to their posts. "New technologies are allowing publishers to get more sophisticated with their content, and there is greater consumer appetite for video," says Shoba. "We're in the business of matching content creators and content consumers", she adds, and to that end they've created a section called the Video Cafe specifically tailored to bloggers. She points out that tech, auto and social causes are their most popular buckets.

After speaking to her I was curious to see what other outlets provided high quality video clips. Whether you want to stay up to date on the latest web 2.0 video tutorials, or you want to add them to your posts to enhance your story and make it more professional, I found an number of sources, which I've listed below. By copying and pasting their html code you can embed the videos on unto your post so your readers don't have to navigate away from you. Here's a little roundup of my favorite web 2.0 channels:

YouTube is of course the end all and be all for video but it can be cumbersome to sort through it all, so I've selected some channels I like:

The Google channel has the latest downloads on, what else, Google products & how-to's.

Check this one on how to use Google Maps...it's super cool:



The CommonCraft channel has the most clear and easy-to-understand tutorials I've seen on the web. Here's one on Twitter in Plain English:



If you're writing about breaking news, YouTube's Associated Press channel has videos on an eclectic mix of topics, including tips on buying stocks (it'll soon be time for some quality bottom fishing, if you have the stomach for it...). The bad news is they're all jumbled up together and there's no categories, but you can search or choose from the 'most viewed' and 'the most discussed'.

Outside of YouTube there's the AllBusiness.com's Video Library. Here's one snippet on Why Search Engine Spiders are Important






TED.com offers a diverse library of videos from their annual conference, which brings together some of the world's most interesting people including Al Gore, Bill Clinton, Jane Goodall, Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, etc. Here's a clip on how Jimmy Wales created Wikipedia, one of the most referenced, most highly trafficked sites on the web:





Expert Village has an Internet channel with some useful how-to's. There were a slew of Facebook tutorials on the welcome page, and the one I looked at was well edited and to the point.

Where do you go for quality online video? Please share!

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Monday, September 22, 2008

Strategies for growth in a slowing economy

Yikes, what a mess! The havoc in the stock and financial markets made it really challenging to stay focused on my work last week. I spent 14 years of my life at Lehman Bros., so it's not only the pain of seeing the place I called "home" crumble after such a long and rich history, but through the years I also accumulated company stock, which is now, well... worthless. Ouch. Big ouch. Just the thought of opening up my account to see how much I've lost sends chills up my spine.

It still remains to be seen how the economy will be affected by the ongoing saga in the financial sector, but if history is an any indication the market has always found a way to bounce back up from past meltdowns. However, it's the negative perception that stays on consumer's minds and affects their behavior and their wallets. So how will small businesses weather the current maelstorm? Well that was the topic of a blogger's roundtable luncheon I was invited to recently. The host was Steve Strauss, small business expert and "Ask The Expert" columnist for USA Today. Other fellow bloggers included Yvonne DeVita who pens the Lipsticking blog, Jay Heyman of Porte Advertising, Peter Piazza who writes about printers and scanners for About.com, Bob Phibbs who wrote this post about the event, and Gene Marks who writes for Forbes.com and Businessweek.com.

One success story I was able to share with the group is about The Bridal Garden, a non profit boutique that sells designer wedding gowns at 75% off retail prices. My long time friend Geraldine Brower (that's her on the right), who is the shop's Director tells me that her business has grown exponentially in the past two years as more people hear about it and tell their friends. The store started out twelve years ago as way to make extra money for Sheltering Arms, a non profit organization whose mission was to help disadvantaged children and their families in the NY area. "The concept at the beginning was to get New York City girls to donate their dresses after they got married, so we stockpiled gowns for a year to have enough to open the store," explains Geraldine. But they soon had to find other ways to get inventory, so they branched out and called on stores and designers to get them to donate dresses. "Back then the Bridal Garden wasn't the only way that Sheltering Arms raised funds so I didn't take a lot of chances. We wanted to build the business slowly and steadily so it wouldn't falter," she adds.

Since then the store has changed hands and it now benefits the Brooklyn Charter School. They no longer have the backing from an umbrella organization and need to be self-supporting. That has forced them to put all their efforts into making enough money to cover the costs. "Before it was just a sideline. I was director of development and I was doing a lot of other things; now I'm dedicated to the shop full time, and we've built a strong business. We were up 20% last year and another 20% the year before," says Geraldine.

When I asked her how she did it she says it's been a combination of things:

Keep your costs down
"Our expenses are really low. For every 3 dollars that comes in, one dollar is pure profit. That's the result of growing slowly. If you have the time to invest in a business and don't want to risk money, you can do it on a shoestring."

Step up the media appearances
"Recently we were interviewed on Eyewitness News and they put us in the backs of taxicabs in NY City for two weeks. The segment we were in played over and over and was seen by 1.1 mill people, according to the networks stats. That was about 3 months ago and since then our sales are up 35%. I pitched the show a few different ideas and they ultimately liked this one, which had a "weddings on a budget" theme. We had been written up in Newsweek magazine and often TV follows print so that helped us get recognition with this story."

Embrace the internet
"The internet has been the most effective marketing tool for us because people in the marriage demographic use the internet for everything. Whenever anyone calls for an appointment we ask them how they heard about us and it's usually one of two ways: they either do a search and we come up, or they read about us in blogs where brides communicate with each other.

I made sure we had a very good site with a lot of keywords in it (like discount, wedding dresses, charity, resale store) so it comes up high in the rankings. We've also appeared in many blogs, like Wedding Bee, Junebug Weddings, Yelp.com, Citysearch, and more opportunities arise as new new sites pop up. Brides write in and start a dialogue. Brides are telling their friends about us and more designers are coming onboard. We now have name recognition and people know who we are - we're very mainstream now. It helps to have a really good product at an inexpensive price and to provide good service. Shoppers can also feel good about knowing that by buying our gowns they are helping children and contributing to a good cause."

Do you have any small business success stories or tactics to share? Please do!

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Makings of a Media Mogul

I recently met Tom Schlobohm at Digital Wednesdays, a weekly gathering for media professionals at an outdoor lounge called ONO that's in Manhattan's still trendy meatpacking district but feels more like being in South Beach. After chatting for a little bit he started telling me about the house he was looking to buy with 3 friends near the beach in San Diego so he could live there one or two weeks out of the month and then the rest here in New York. Now at first blush Tom doesn't look like a trust fund baby or a Hollywood movie star (though he could fit right into Entourage), so I asked this very young-looking 28-year-old what he did to be able to afford such a jet-set lifestyle. Well it turns out Tom caught the entrepreneurial bug early in middle school, first washing cars in the summer to get his first bike, then shoveling snow to score his first computer. At 13 he ran a direct mailer where he mailed out coupons 3 times a year, during his breaks. After 3 years he made enough cash to buy a pair of skis and spend a whole summer in France.

This mogul-in-the-making started his first online business in high school, promoting search engines and online offers (meanwhile at that age I was busy trying to figure out what lip gloss would match best with what pair of jeans...). He acted as an affiliate and helped companies with their search marketing campaigns. His take? $130Gs...enough to pay for college! By 18 Tom was already living "the life" - he bought a Jeep Grand Cherokee, went glacier skiing in New Zealand and then island hopping in Fiji.

From there he started a co-location hosting company and had a couple hundred servers throughout the country. One year out of college Tom had enough to buy an apartment and a rental condo, the latter because he wanted to learn about the real estate market.

LiveGrad.com
About 6 months ago Tom started his newest venture, LiveGrad, which focuses on education leads. "We generate leads and get qualified applicants and send them to the schools that hire us. We focus on adult education, like continuing ed or MBAs or doctorates. Our target is people that are already set in their careers but don't have a bachelor's or associate degree, or want a Master or an MBA. Or maybe they want to go back to school to switch careers. It's generally people that already have jobs and are in the workforce," explains Tom.

It's quite a big market. Today the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that only 28% of Americans hold college degrees, and they're execpting that percentage to climb. According to the U.S. Department of Education, between 2005 and 2015, postsecondary enrollment is expected to increase 11% for those under 25 and 18% for those 25 years of age and older.

LiveGrad fends off competition by doing the groundwork. "The big thing is lead quality, so we have a call center that helps us firm up the person's interest and make sure they're in fact a qualified applicant. We've been able to find a niche and continue to grow. We're good at pay-per-click and organic search in Google, MSN and Yahoo!," adds Tom.

Using Facebook Ads
In addition to search engine advertising, Tom occasionally uses Facebook ads. This past summer he was looking to hire an intern and went with Facebook because they allow you to do a highly targeted ads, more so than other ad networks. He wanted to recruit a technology programming student from 4 specific schools, so he ran the ad and found someone from Cornell in just 3 days - for just $47. "I was able to target only current students in the schools I wanted and also only juniors and seniors. Facebook has a big student population and the information is very accurate because it's user generated. People fill out the information themselves. You can specify location, state, city, keywords or what university or schools they're in because all that information appears on their profile," says the native New Yorker.

For his business he mostly advertises through Google, MSN and Yahoo! but says that if you have a product or service for a very targeted group, Facebook works well. You can search by keyword or by company name so can you can target people that have worked at a certain company or that have a certain interest, or even alumni. Tom points out that it's expensive but it works well if you're looking to reach a very specific target market, like at a company or a specific school.

Tom says he'd like to build LiveGrad up and sell it in a few years, but beyond that he can't say. My guess? I see him featured in Entrepreneur or Inc. magazine pretty soon - but you read about him on the Mogulette Blog first!

If you have you any thoughts or comments on using Facebook ads, please share...we'd love to hear from you.

If you like this article please digg it, or stumble it, or make it del.icio.us...;-)
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Saturday, August 30, 2008

Bloggers Get the Full Treatment at the DNC

It's never been a better time to start a blog. No matter what field you're in, blogs are increasingly opening doors for publishers and getting us R-E-S-P-E-C-T, as Aretha would say. My friend and fellow blogger, Sharon Toomer, attended the Democratic National Convention along with two of her writers in an all-expense paid trip, truly a dream come true for her, all because of her blog, Blackandbrownnews.com, (BBN for short). Sharon launched BBN about two years ago as a user-driven news, information and community forum to cover stories from the Black and Latino perspective.

Naturally, covering the DNC was a plum assignment for Sharon, who's day job is at the Association of Black Foundation Executives. But with limited funds, she boldly decided to ask her employer to sponsor her trip to both the Democratic and Republican conventions, and they said yes. This wouldn't have happened, say, a couple of years ago. How times have changed! (That's her getting some face time with Rep. John Lewis at the convention)

But there's more. She hooked up with the NY Community Media Alliance, who launched an election 2008 initiative and is financing a group of ethnic and immigrant media organizations so they can attend both conventions, as well the primary season and the general election. The NYCMA has also arranged for new media journalists and bloggers to get the all-important press credentials for high profile events, including "Big Tent Denver". There are 11 journalists along with Sharon, representing Pakistan, China, Bangladesh, Ireland, Poland, Russia and of course Black, African American and Latino communities. "None of us has the resources, human or financial, to staff this kind of coverage," says Sharon.

Bloggers and new media journalists had a huge area where they could blog all day, with free lunch and dinner, sponsored by Daily Koz, Google and YouTube. "They're taking bloggers seriously and created a space for us to be able to work," adds Sharon.

Her first interview was with Al Sharpton at La Guardia when they were both boarding the plane from NY to Denver. She saw him waiting to be seated and asked if she could have a few minutes of his time. He was very generous and kind to her. "It was cool", she says. "This is very valuable for nontraditional news and information outlets like BBN that don't have access to the democratic process in the same way that mainstream media does yet we still need to get information to our readers."

Next stop for Sharon: Minnesota. After that? The world!

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Social Media Camp Recap

By the time I got to my first session at Social Media Camp, the one-day event at Sun Microsystems on Thursday, Joshua Mack, VP of Network for Outside.in was wrapping up his schpeel on "place blogging", a term I had never heard before (other cool lingo I picked up that day: failwhale - what you get when the Twitter server is busy...). Their software allows you to enter a zip code and track blog conversations people are having in your local area. Very cool.

Twitter was the big theme of the day at this social symposium, and the next session I attended was a case study on how a business uses it. It was led by Saul Colt, Head of Magic at a company called FreshBooks (man, I wish I had a job title like that in my resume!). Saul (that's him with me in the picture below) is obsessed with Twitter and spoke for an hour on how he uses it for the company he works for, which makes online invoicing and billing software. Actually what he does is the opposite of business, because his "tweets", or the messages he sends on Twitter, have absolutely nothing to do with business. For example, he'll send a tweet in support of fellow Twitter-ers if they share a disappointing experience.

Saul believes that we must use the internet to have real-world relationships with people, and twitter-ing is a way to do that. It used to be we knew everything about what was going on with the people in our community, like who had a baby, who went to what school, who was going where on Saturday night, etc. Somehow that got lost as society evolved, but the web is enabling us to find a way back there.

Saul pointed out that he gets 70% of his business from Twitter but says you can't track the effectiveness of word-of-mouth marketing in traditional ways. So he takes out all the things you can track, like promo codes, etc. and the rest is WOM. His last two cents: "Make people feel they're part of something special. Never pitch product - if it's good it will sell itself." Saul's quotable quote: the 4 E's - "execute on extraordinary experiences every day - that's what people will talk about."

From there I moved on to a fascinating discussion given by Loretta Donovan. Her session was titled "Customers, Clients and Social Mediators, When the Wiki Becomes CoLaboratory" (note: the spelling of the last word is intentional). Just in case you're fuzzy on what a wiki is, Wikipedia defines it as "a collection of web pages designed to enable anyone who accesses it to contribute or modify content." This makes for interesting collaborations between employees inside an organization (many of these are private), or anyone within an industry that wants to share knowledge about a specific subject. Loretta took us through the 3 main elements that wikis must have to be effective:

1-Knowledge - meaning information, and to this she suggests adding tags and allowing comments.

2-Integration - with more knowledge, for example, adding links to video or other sources that contribute to your premise. You can add a new page allowing contributors to continuously add and edit information, insert links back to other pages of the wiki, and raise questions that can be answered by other contributors - all this creates quantity.

3-Execution - this is the experimentation phase. Here you can create a prototype of something and then test it, and write about the results of the first test, and the second test, and the third, and so on, always allowing for people to leave comments.

Loretta added that wikis leave a visible path of how our thinking is going. They create a level of transparency for organizations, and a sense of psychological safety among employees - and where people feel safe, creativity abounds.

In the end, however, you need to sustain it. There are many wikis that are started and then forgotten, so you need to have a social mediator in charge of attracting those conversations to keep it going.

Next stop: Howard Greenstein's, interactive session on Twitter, where he posed the question, "how do you use Twitter for business?" to the group. These were some of the responses:

  • as a source of news & information

  • to participate in the community - answer questions and ask questions

  • to alert your community about upcoming events

  • to follow interesting writers/conversations

  • to send out a daily tip

  • to meet like-minded individuals and connect with them locally or when you travel

  • to promote awareness of a particular issue

  • to offer what you have
In short, it was an awesome event and I had a lot of great conversations with fellow social media enthusiasts Paul Burani, John Follis, Cecilia Feret, Marshall Sponder, Bendrix, Donald Schwartz, BL Ochman, David Berkowitz, Helen Yi Chen, and Mo Krochmal. I only regret not having taken more pictures! Anyway, please feel free to share your thoughts on Twitter, or on Social Media Camp if you were there!

Monday, August 4, 2008

Use Widgets to Promote Your Site's Content

When Sheryl Azaroff launched her website two years ago she made a lot of mistakes. She started out on a different direction than where is is today and hired the wrong developer. But in the last year things have come together. "You have an idea in your head about how you want things but what you set out to do and what you actually do end up being different. However, you find out the information you need along the way," says the web entrepreneur.

I met Sheryl recently at a NYSIA event and was intrigued by what was doing with her website, PhysicalFitnet.com, which offers information and resources to both fitness professionals and fitness-minded individuals, mostly in the form of video.

"We have a video library of nearly 900 video clips. Most of them are exercise demos and some are answers to frequently asked fitness questions. We also have workouts for individual exercises. The exercises clips are about 10-15 seconds - very short - to give you an idea of what the exercise is. The FAQs are a little longer, one to one and a half minutes," explains the former personal trainer.

Fitness videos on the internet are a great source for people interested in staying in shape, but Sheryl has taken them one step further. She's making the videos available for syndication, or RSS feeds, which is very handy for fitness bloggers or gyms that have websites and may be looking for fresh, relevant, multimedia content for their sites but don't have the time to make it themselves. Now they can offer their visitors an "exercise of the day", or a "workout of the week" by just plugging in Sheryl's professionally generated videos. The videos are free to either watch directly from her site or syndicate.



Sheryl's Widget Strategy
To makes things really easy, Sheryl has created widgets, like the one you see above, so that once you put the videos on your site they will be updated automatically. That means you will have fresh content every day without having to do anything yourself!

I wrote a post about widgets recently (What's Your Widget Strategy), but to review, they are little pieces of code that you can embed into your site to allow users to do certain things. The "search this site" widget on the top of my sidebar is an example of this. These mini-applications are great ways to promote your business and drive traffic to your site. In Sheryl's case, she's using widgets to showcase her videos and to create awareness for her brand. She offers the widgets on her site and is also using other platforms, such as WidgetBox and Google Gadgets to distribute them. And she's looking for ways to offer it as a Facebook app as well.

She currently offers four types of widgets - one for an exercise of the day, one for a workout of the week, one for a Fitness Q&A for the Day and another one for Exercises by Body Part. All these will automatically be updated for you.

Sites can easily customize the videos they want to syndicate, which is how a blog called Diets in Review is using them. They are focused on the nutrition side but they wanted to start offering content on fitness because it's a topic that's closely related to dieting. Sheryl's videos make their posts more interactive and interesting. In this entry on combination exercises they added 5 of Sheryl's videos to go along with the topic of the post. Once you click on the image, a window will pop up with the video. To monetize it further Sheryl is using Google Adsense to display ads inside the pop-ups. In the future, once she increases her distribution, she hopes to strike deals directly with advertisers.

"Originally when we started I was only going to have content on my site and make money through ads. Now we're thinking of ways to distribute our content as well as sell ads. And there's more ideas related to this to get other people to look at our content. The production and creation are done - now we're leveraging the work that's already completed," explains Sheryl.

What "new media" tools have you used on your site? We'd love to hear about it!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Blogs - Your Electronic Calling Card to the World

This week I gave my very first two-part workshop on blogging and it was a resounding success. The class got so excited about setting up their blogs everyone had given it a go by the time the second session rolled around.

One story I shared with them was how I started my Mogulette blog a year and a half ago. I met a woman who was having a lot of difficulty finding a job in her industry so she decided to start blogging. Six months later she had a book deal and a year after that she landed a job in her field in addition to lining up speaking engagements. Her story inspired me so much I immediately created a Blogger account and started writing. Her advice was to write as much as possible, like at least 2-3 times a week or more. However I never managed to enter more than one post a week (except like, right now when it's been two weeks since I wrote last, but, who's counting?), but the beauty of it is that even with minimal writing I still get results.

Today through my blog I make valuable connections I would never make otherwise. It's not only a source for consulting leads but it's also a great way for journalists and referral partners to find me. Forbes.com recently stumbled across my blog and asked me to join their Blog Network and share ad revenues with them. Last week Dale King of GuruKnowledge.org found me and asked if he could interview me for his blog (I'll be on his home page for a week). And suddenly I'm getting pitches from PR people to feature their clients on my blog.

I think it's a basic instinct we have in all of us - the curiosity about what other people are doing on the one hand, and the need to tell others what we're up to, on the other. Blogs - and all new media for that matter - feed that need we have inside to express ourselves and make connections - whether meaningful or superficial (super pokes!), intellectual or mundane.

Big businesses are increasingly seeing the value of 'Web 2.0' and how it can help keep the connection between them and their clients alive and the communication flowing. But it's also easier than ever for small businesses to join into the action with so much free software available today. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube...in addition to blogs - make it possible for us to stay front and center in our customers' minds. The key is to pick two or three of them and focus on those.

What new media tools work best for you? How do you manage all your social networks? Please share your tips!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Basic Web Pages Every Site Should Have

For the past month I've been teaching a Do-It-Yourself Website Building workshop and right now we're working on content, so I thought I'd share some of the information I gathered for the class. We'll be focusing mainly on the basics: 1. the home/welcome page, 2. the "about us" page, and 3. the "contact us" page. Ready to start the "web waltz"? And a 1-2-3, 1-2-3...

Before we start, however, there are a few things to keep in mind:

Keywords are key
Don't build your site using only images because then search engines won't be able to find you (fate worse than death!). Think of words, terms and phrases people would most likely type into a search engine to find a product or service like yours. Make a list of 20-30 and choose the most relevant ones for each page. The ones that describe your home page may not be the same as the ones for a particular product page, or for an article you may have written.

Insert keywords:

1-Into the text – titles, subtitles, paragraphs, hyperlinks, sidebar text. But don't overdo it! Google will penalize you if you flood each page with keywords, so stick to one per paragraph. Conversely, if there's too few keywords the search engines will think it’s not about that topic, so shoot for a happy medium.

2-Into the coding of the site - meta tags, title tag, description tag , keyword tags

Overall Content
What images come up to your mind when you think about your business? Those are the same pictures you need to paint to convey your marketing message. Building your reputation and your brand is like dating - you have to woo your prospects in by showing them your best qualities so #1 - they'll like you, and #2 - they'll trust you. Selling is all about trust, so be personable, let your personality shine through - quirks and all.

As David Vinjamuri says in his new book, Accidental Branding, the best brands create a myth around them. People love stories, and sharing your story will allow them to like you. The more they like you the more likely they'll buy something from you. David points to J. Peterman's website, where every product page tells a different anecdote or adds a snippet that whets your appetite. And he continuously keeps the myth alive by writing a blog that gets tons of comments (for more on this read Creative Storytelling).

So write in the first person, as if you were talking to someone you like, and share your stories. Tell them about you, what problems your products and services solve and how they do that. But stay truthful to who you are. By telling them a good story you're giving people the tools to tell others about you.

Now to the nitty gritty...

1- Home/Welcome Page
Like the quote says, "you never get a second chance to make a first impression". Your welcome page introduces you to the world, so you want to make sure that it is presenting the right information in a clear and easy to follow manner. Don't make it hard for people to find things, and keep the main points "above the fold", so they don't have to scroll down. Your home page should be a portal where you can direct people to the deeper sales content pages. The Search Engine Guide recommends keeping text to a minimum in the home page. (See: 7 Ways to Make your Home Page A Home Run)

2- About Us
Whenever I visit a new website one of the first pages I click on is "About Us". That's where I expect to find out the who, what, when, where and how of the site, and if it's not there, I usually take that as a bad sign and move on. A well written "about us" page, on the other hand, will help you be credible, findable and likable, as a recent post on Search Engine Land says (see Making a Good Impression with About Us Pages). The article has a ton of great suggestions of what to include in your about page. Here's a few, plus some of my own:

  • Mission Statement

  • Bios of you, your employees

  • Photos and/or video of yourself, your office or employees - add keyword-rich captions and descriptions so people doing image or video searches can find you

  • A history or timeline of your business

  • Case Studies

  • Testimonials

  • Store hours, location, a map

  • Customer Service Policies (on returns, shipping, privacy, etc.)

  • Descriptions of community involvement or membership in local organizations

  • Awards received

  • A link to your press page

  • Job openings
Also see:
- 5 Easy Ways to Make Your About Us Page More About Your Customer
- About Your Website's About Us Page

3- Contact Us
Want to make your list of prospects grow? Make sure you have a way to collect email addresses on your "contact us" page. It doesn't work just to give them your contact information and pray they'll call. By collecting email addresses you can keep potential clients abreast of industry happenings, special events, promotions, or new products/services. It's like sending them a little reminder of who you are so when they're ready to do business they'll think of you first. For ideas on how to collect emails see 6 Ways To Get Your Visitors to Contact You From Your 'Contact Us' Page.

Map out all the information first
Know that you have a rough idea of what goes into each page, take a moment to think about what information you’d like to include in each of them. In a separate, blank piece of paper write a simple outline for each – this will be your blueprint. For ex., in your "about us" page you'll need your bio and a picture, as well as links to other pages on your site that might show samples of your work. For the products page you may want to have thumbnail images of products with a short description and then a link to individual product pages. Make sure to have calls to action in every page - ex. subscribe to my newsletter/blog, buy my products, come to my event, hire me, etc.

Well there is it - your 3 basic pages. Did I miss anything? Please let me know!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

It's 10pm, Do You Know Where Your Brand Is?


I've been working on a new logo for my Mogulette Blog (coming soon!) which has led me to think a lot about my brand and what direction to take it. I get so confused by all the different aspects of my business and how they're changing and how (or if) to connect them to one another. So I checked in with my branding guru, the very talented Romana Mirza (who is founder of her own firm, Studio Pinpoint) to shine some light on these matters. Her recommendation for entrepreneurs that are still testing their product/service mix is to start out by making a list of words. Here's what she had to say:

There’s a 3-dimensional perspective that all visionary leaders need to have when building their brands. First you review the strengths of your competitors, then your own and finally those of brands outside of your industry.

1. Competitive landscape: Know what your competitors are offering. Not just the factual details like price, selection, service delivery, etc. but also the language they use - “fastest”, “best quality”, “luxury”, “softest”, “tastiest” – whatever it is. You will find that all your competitors speak the same way. Note these similar phrases and descriptive words. If you don’t have a competitor then fast forward to a time when you become really successful and try to figure out which companies will want to jump into your space and become your competitors, and summarize their language and common phrases.

2. Look inside: Define your character, your personality, what’s unique or quirky about you – how are you are different from the next person. This is hard to do and that’s where working with a brand strategist really helps. Ask your friends, your colleagues, your partners. Make sure to get them to tell you what is unique about you in all the different areas of your life: family, work, business partners, friends, acquaintances, etc. Note the differences, the unique attributes. I really liked Strengths Finder 2.0 by Tom Rath - it's a great way to get an objective view of your strengths.

3. Benchmark: Look for your favorite brands in industries outside of your business. For instance I was hired to do the brand repositioning for a very large office furniture manufacturer. This company appealed to the masses and offered nice design, so I looked for an established brand that had those same qualities to see how they went to market with their designs and how they targeted their customers. Kenneth Cole, which was in a totally different field, ended up being my benchmark. Study your favorite brands, whether it's a tennis racquet manufacturer, clothing designer, a soap company or a car company. Look at their websites, note the language they use to speak to customers, figure out what you like about how they present themselves to you and take note.

Once you complete noting the three dimensions, lay out what you found in front of you. This is where you'll see your brand coming together. Your business may be in flux, your distribution model may change or your financing methods may vary but one thing is certain - no matter how many structural or operational changes you make, your brand should always remain consistent. This is the most important part. The brand must reflect who you are, your core values, the core culture of the company you are building. In the early stages the three-dimensional perspective will give you that.

I then asked Romana for guidance in helping "slashers"
like myself (people with multiple slashes in their job titles) to create our brands. Specifically I wanted to know if it was better to tie in the different roles we play into one single brand, or create separate ones for each. Here's what she said:

Develop a brand strategy. This is where you create an “organizational chart” of your different areas of expertise. If in doing this exercise one emerges as the “parent skill” then your other slashes will become subsets of that. If they truly emerge as individual silos then your brand effort may also have to be individualized. Write your strategy - it will determine your “go to market” approach.
Romana says there millions of dollars spent on marketing and brand strategies that don’t work. "Most of the time campaigns are so out of touch from the intent and culture of their organization
they don’t even make it to market. Then a company has to invest even more money to try to get it right, but by that point they are so fatigued they just launch whatever comes next. We need to change that," she adds.

Here's her list of 4 branding pitfalls to watch out for:

1. Avoid “standard industry language”. If everyone is talking about luxury, quality and craftsmanship then you should use other words like elite or best-in-class, care, attention-to-detail, and skill.

2. Don’t be something you’re not. Some new companies take on a persona, a brand personality that is not a reflection of who they truly are. People will want to be seen as “worldly and exciting” when they are really “approachable and skilled”. Don’t get caught in the ad agency ‘fast talk’ and adopt an ad campaign or look that doesn’t reflect who you are.

3. Don’t go in blindly. It shocks me how little knowledge entrepreneurs have of their competitive marketplace. Everyone starts a business thinking they have the most unique product. If that is the case then study those companies that are going to come after your market share once they see how successful you’ve become.

4. Be strategic. Throwing an identity and company name together without understanding the strategic implications of how the business is going to grow and what it is going to look like when you get there feels like you are accomplishing a lot in the moment. But then once you get there - to your future state - you realize all the mistakes you made. I work with many, many entrepreneurs – all in their 50’s - who didn’t focus on long term strategy in their 20’s, 30’s or 40’s when they launched their businesses so now they have to do everything all over again.
Branding takes a lot of soul searching and self-analysis and may be the last thing you want to do when there's so many other pressing matters to take care of for your business, but all that precious time spent in careful thought and planning will definitely be worth it.

What are your favorite brands, and why? Please share!


Thursday, June 12, 2008

Balancing Work with Fun is Not Always Easy

A big thanks to Lori Field, who just plugged my blog on her website, Real Beauty Is. Lori describes herself as a social entrepreneur and life coach, and her site is about empowering women to feel good about themselves. You would think that would be something that comes naturally but I know for myself I need constant reminders to do "feel-good" things like scheduling a massage at least once a month (once a week would be even better!), eating healthy foods and going to bed at a reasonable hour. If left to my own devices I'd spend all my time either working or trying to figure out the next steps for my business, which can lead to burn-out.

Checking in with friends and family helps me stay grounded, so I try to make at least 3 non-work-related calls a day. Planning social activities can feel like a job in itself but if I don't tear myself away I become grouchy and negative, which kills my creativity. Plus there's nothing like the exhilaration I feel when viewing a great art exhibit, or walking through a blooming flower patch in Central Park (which is where I took this picture). After these little breaks, my head feels as if someone had gone inside it with a vacuum cleaner and scooped up all the "busy-ness" and cleared some space. It's like taking a mini-vacation from, well, myself.

Last weekend I went to visit my family in Puerto Rico (I would show some pictures except that my niece dropped my Canon Powershot A530 and broke it and all my photos are now stuck inside. I've grown so accustomed to carrying my camera everywhere that I feel lost without it. Once I figure out how to fix/replace it I'll add photos, so check back!). I was only in San Juan for 4 days but I spent a lot of time feeling guilty for leaving my work behind. In my head there's a sort of time clock that's constantly telling me that I'm late, that I'm behind schedule, like that rabbit in Alice in Wonderland. The reality is that yes, I have deadlines, but things are unfolding in my life exactly as they should, which is not necessarily on my schedule. So I need to relax more, and to enjoy my life right now, exactly where it is, because that's all I've got. Yesterday is gone and tomorrow hasn't happened yet. The only thing I can change is the present moment, which will be over in a blink of an eye.

I had a wonderful time in the island. We celebrated my mother's 76th birthday (she looks better than ever!) by taking a trip to the mountains to eat local delicacies, like crispy roast pork, fried green plantains, meat and crab turnovers an lots of other finger-lickin' goodies. I taught my niece and nephews how to use my camera (which ended up costing me but it was worth it), took in the tropical scenery and filled my belly with my favorite foods. The rest of the weekend was just as enjoyable. When I got back I put together a killer presentation for the "D-I-Y Website" workshop I gave on Tuesday (more on that in upcoming posts). My business is alive and well and didn't go down the drain because I put it on hold for a few days. Live and learn!

How do you find work/life balance? Share your thoughts with us!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

"New Directions" for Women Entrepreneurs

Last week I gave a "Blogging for Business" presentation (one of my favorite topics!) at the Women's Center for Education and Career Advancement (WCECA), a nonprofit organization located in downtown Manhattan, and met a fabulous group of budding "fempreneurs" (pictured right).

Arlene wants to start a film production company to make video resumes for actors, Idalis is creating a line of makeup bags, Shevon is developing a line of vegan, gluten free foods, and Yanique makes eco-friendly home furnishings. Maresa and Leonette are both starting coaching practices to help women in transition, while Kim is in real estate management. These are just some of the businesses that are being "incubated" at the WCECA.

Established in 1970, the WCECA's main objective is to provide marketable skills to women of color who are in "marginable and tenous places in the paid labor force." To this end, they created a program called "New Directions" for low income women with the aspiration and commitment to start their own businesses. Participants meet twice a week for twelve weeks, and learn how to" build and run a successful business, create a sound business plan and prepare for the obstacles and rewards of entrepreneurship." Workshops include business plan writing, marketing, networking, legal issues, financial management and business strategy. High tech mediums like Internet blogging and online marketing are also covered. This valuable course, which is offered twice a year, is totally free of charge. Most of the women who participate find out about it through word of mouth, and the class size is usually 10-15.

Kathleen Vaughn (sitting front row, far right in the picture), who has been with the Center since Sept. of last year, is the program coordinator. "Ours is an organization founded by and for women, so we are very attuned to the challenges women face today," she explains.

Kathleen says that one of the biggest challenges women entrepreneurs face is putting together the (dreaded!) business plan, so three to four of the classes are focused solely that. They are taught by an instructor from American Express who keeps the ladies on track by assigning homework they have to send to her via email.

"We address the professional and personal needs of budding female entrepreneurs. In addition to tech skills we also provide guidance on goal setting, stress management, personal health and nutrition and planning for change," adds Kathleen, whose dedication to the women is evident. Before introducing me, she read an inspirational poem to get everyone in the right state of mind. And when she went away to Vermont for a week she hired one of the past participants, who has a pet sitting business, to take care of her kitty.

After the class was over I walked out with a warm feeling and a spring in my step, happy to have helped other mogulettes-in-the-making move a little bit closer to their dreams.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Using video to advertise your business

There may be a lot of jewelry stores in New York City, but I recently encountered one that's breaking out of the staid, conservative mold that the industry is known for and testing out new media tools. Located in New York's financial district, Greenwich Jewelers was founded back in 1976 by Carl and Milly Gandia. Six years ago their daughter Jennifer came on board, and her sister Christina followed four years later. The younger Gandias have been slowing modernizing every aspect of the business, adding a computerized inventory system, building e-commerce capabilities unto the website, and - the latest - creating the video ad on CitySearch.com (see below).




The girls hadn't meant to follow in their parents footsteps. Sure they helped out at the store during holidays and summers while growing up, but after majoring in marketing communications at FIT, Jennifer pursued a career in fashion, while Christina put her marketing degree from Fordham to work in the financial field.

However, 9/11 changed all that. The store was just blocks away from the World Trade Center but miraculously nothing was harmed. The building however, did retain some damage, and they were told they'd have to relocate. At that time Carl and Milly flirted with the idea of retiring early, but then they got a call from a client who had found space for them. "They felt a responsibility and a desire to help the neighborhood and stay and be of service to the people here that had been so loyal to them, so they decided to reopen," explains Jennifer.

A difficult 10 months followed, and the family came together to design and build the new store and get it back on its feet. After that Jennifer found herself at a crossroads. She had been working in fashion PR for Nars Cosmetics and knew she wasn't interested in continuing there. "I didn’t want want to get to a higher level in the cosmetics industry or in marketing for a large company, so I took time off to do something I'd been wanting to do, which is live abroad, and give myself some time to think," says Jennifer.

She spent a year in Spain but by the 3 or 4th month it hit her - after peering into countless windows and evaluating products in as many jewelry stores she knew what she was meant to do. "I realized I was very interested in the family business and I wanted to be a part of it, so as soon as I got back I started working at the store. The first couple of years was about learning the "ropes" and watching what was happening. I had some ideas I implemented right away - basic operational things like a computerized inventory system and getting slightly more aggressive with the marketing, though nothing sophisticated - just direct mail and local print ads," says Jennifer.

Little by little she started getting to know the clients and what they were looking for, and she formulated a vision for the business. Luckily she and her sister see eye to eye on this. After briefly working in a finance job Christina gravitated back to jewelry. She took a position at Temple St. Claire, a designer of fine jewelry, but soon after joined the family fold. Together the siblings are seeking out smaller artisan lines that have a point of view and are unique and of excellent quality. Last year after a year's worth of careful planning they revamped the website to accommodate e-commerce capabilities and show more products.


But according to Jennifer, their most effective marketing tool to date has been their ads on Citysearch. "That was a turning point for us. Before that most of our business was very local - it was just people in the area that knew about us. There was some word-of-mouth but not outside our immediate area. Citysearch was fairly new at the time and I noticed they were doing advertising so I looked into it. We started out at a small level - like $100 a month - for a listing with just a small blurb about us. Then people started leaving reviews about their experience with us, and it started a snowball effect. We had people coming from places that we’d never seen before - uptown, Harlem, Connecticut. It really expanded our reach. It showed us the power of the internet and what it could do for our business. That continues today - it's still our greatest source of marketing. And it works because it isn't anything we’re doing - it's the reviews that we get. Obviously we're giving people a good experience and they feel compelled to write about us, but it’s the forum aspect that brings people into our store.


When Citysearch launched the video service, Greenwich Jewelers was one of the first ones they contacted. There are a couple of options and price points to choose from - you can either shoot it yourself or have them send a crew and produce it. For the latter they'll send a cameraman over to your place of business to shoot for about an hour and you'll end up with a professionally edited 60-second clip. They also provide you with the HTML code so you can set it up on your website and/or other other sites like YouTube.


If you've been thinking of using video as a marketing tool but don't know quite how, this may spark some ideas. Gone are the days of the cheesy late night Crazy Eddie commercials. With the internet it's easier than ever to make and distribute video, and savvy businesses like Greenwich Jewelers are taking advantage of this.

By the way, they've just launched a new campaign where they're giving away a piece of jewelry every month. All you need to do is sign up - no purchase necessary! This month it's a pair of beautiful NuNu earrings (shown right). Deadline is May 31.

 
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